The formerly derelict central London district is destined to become a shoppers’ paradise.
- King’s Boulevard lures Nike, Jigsaw, Carhartt and others
- An affluent worker demographic is among the 20 millionpredicted annual footfall
- Rail hubs are driving the transformation
- Big names signing at Coal Drops Yard
Once upon a time, the words “King’s Cross” would spark a look of disdain from any Londoner or retailer – the semi-industrial area was home to a red light district, drug dealers and derelict rail yards. But this once-neglected part of central London is undergoing a remarkable metamorphosis and is rapidly en route to becoming one of London’s top retail destinations.
The area surrounding London’s busy King’s Cross and St Pancras International railway stations and Eurostar terminals is in the midst of a colossal redevelopment. A £1bn construction programme is creating 8 million sq ft of offices and homes, commercial and public space, including 500,000 sq ft for retail and leisure. This includes new retail destination Coal Drops Yard, where 65 shops built into the shell of the city’s old Victorian coal stores are set to open October 2018. The transformation, which is being developed by the King’s Cross Partnership, led by Argent, is so vast that it even has spawned a new, dedicated postcode: N1C.
“King’s Cross never existed as a retail destination. It wasn’t on the radar for anyone,” explains Craig White, head of retail leasing at Argent. “Now, we’re placing it in the top five destinations for brands to consider expanding.”
Already, the area is enticing prestigious, premium brands. Last summer Nike opened a store on King’s Boulevard, which links the stations to Granary Square, and Jigsaw, Carhartt Work in Progress and & Other Stories have also announced plans to open there.
“We wanted brands that communicate the new King’s Cross,” says White. “Brands that are compelling enough to make you travel. We wanted recognisable brands to draw you up King’s Boulevard.”
For global brands such as these, there are several factors that make King’s Cross an appealing prospect. Jonathan De Mello, head of retail consultancy at property agent Harper Dennis Hobbs, highlights the local clientèle: 60% of the residential catchment are “wealthy urbanites”.
“Yes, you have a lot of people passing through the stations, but equally there is a high proportion of people that classify as urban prosperity or urban intelligence: the young affluent professional that wants to buy fashion and wants to eat out,” he explains. “The brands there resonate with that particular kind of shopper.”
This affluence is situated in the luxury residences that populate the area, but also from the local office workers. Google is set to have three offices in the King’s Cross area, including the 870,000 sq ft “groundscraper” – so called because the building will be longer than the skyscraper the Shard is tall. And Louis Vuitton, New Look, The Guardian, Havas and Universal Music Group – international and exciting companies with employees to match – are all within striking distance of the area. Central Saint Martins, part of University of the Arts London, dominates the area’s central Granary Square too – bringing with it a youthful, creative and vibrant student community.
For & Other Stories, which is opening a 5,900 sq ft store overlooking Regents Canal, it was this diversity and the creativity of the area that appealed: “We’ll be able to reach the fashion students of St Martins, but also, for example, the women who work in the finance sector,” said a spokesman for the brand. “There’s a great local community feel, but it’s also an area for tourists to explore, especially because of its proximity to the St Pancras Eurostar station. You just feel that there is an up-and-coming, creative vibe that appeals to a lot of people.”
The rail hubs are the driving factor in the areas’s resurgence: £2.5bn has been spent on local transport infrastructure, and King’s Cross and St Pancras are both undergoing renovations and becoming retail destinations in their own right – Chanel, Ted Baker, Mac and John Lewis all have stores in the stations. It is a transport hub like no other in London: a glamorous entry point to the city that has local, national and international lines – including the Eurostar – all passing through. Annually, there are 176 million visitors to the stations, many of whom will explore the surrounding area.
Footfall is predicted to reach 20 million once the entire area is established. Annual visitor numbers have increased 40% each year since 2014, and currently sit at 10 million. Standing in Granary Square, where children play in piazza fountains, parents watch from the terraces of the trendy restaurants and Central Saint Martins students sit chatting by the canal, there is a palpable buzz to the area.
“It was too vibrant a place not to be a part of,” explains Peter Ruis, CEO of Jigsaw, which is opening a 2,500 sq ft King’s Cross store later this year. “It’s important to have a store that adds to the total direction of the brand and I think King’s Cross is probably one of the most exciting developments in London. It’s sort of like a new town. In this day and age, when trade is hard to come by, the idea that you’re doing something for the brand as much as for trade was quite overwhelming.”
There is a growing sense that the King’s Cross retail offer will be different from elsewhere in London. Ruis believes “proper vision and proper planning” is drawing together a uniquely curated atmosphere, in part pioneered by a focus on unique and interesting stores.
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Coal Drops in
“Brands can still have an immense reach even if they’re not universally known,” says Argent’s White. “We’re looking for brands that are influential in their own sector.” The latest opening exemplifies this: Four Marketing concept store 18 Montrose opened its doors in early August. The food offerings on Granary Square also hold this kind of lure: Caravan, The Grain Store and Dishoom all regularly draw long queues for a table.
While lettings are yet to be announced for the Coal Drops Yard area, the largest retail destination, the aim is for a similar unique feel. All the large units are taken, including the imposing glass-walled centrepiece – a 20,000 sq ft space that floats over the Victorian arches. French luxury department store Merci is among those rumoured to be taking space at the scheme, while a British footwear manufacturer and eyewear brand are confirmed.
The ethos of the area seems a million miles away from other large-scale retail developments and, although the area houses the hyper-modern buildings and tech innovation of Google, there is still a sense of heritage in the area. Rugged brickwork and iron railway lines crisscross, and trees and wide open spaces creating an open, airy feel.
“The area is visualised with lifestyle and experience in mind,” explains White. “The future of retail is the future of experience and the essence of Coal Drops Yard is that sensorial retail comes to life.”
Coal drops top
In creating the new King’s Cross, an entire new neighbourhood and community has been built from scratch, anchored in its very modern approach by a close connection to London’s past. Retailers are being encouraged to experiment with their store spaces and work with the local communities, for example Nike already runs PE lessons at the local primary school, while Jigsaw and & Other Stories will work with Central Saint Martins students.
“We’re putting old-fashioned qualities of retail in the modern context,” says White.
Currently, Coal Drops Yard is a construction site, where rusted iron girders from the original building sit alongside bright steel scaffolding as the skeleton of the building takes its shape. However, as the dramatic glass centrepiece rises majestically on to the landscape, the scale and impact of the development, and the immense potential of N1C is clear. The scene is set for a dramatic and disruptive retail reinvigoration.
King’s Cross by numbers
- N1C – the new King’s Cross postcode
- 500,000 sq ft of retail and leisure space
- 4km of retail frontage
- 160 shops in total
- 65 units in Coal Drops Yard
- 20 million projected annual footfall
- £1.6bn projected annual retail spend
- £1bn construction programme
- £27 average spend per visit in 2016